UMass football: Minutemen continue to be plagued by slow starts

  • UMass’ Shawn Harris Jr. (12) runs with the ball against Arkansas State during the Minutemen’s 52-28 loss on Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/2/2023 5:29:11 PM
Modified: 10/2/2023 5:28:11 PM

AMHERST — Slow starts are becoming a discouraging theme for the Massachusetts football team of late.

After scoring first quarter touchdowns against New Mexico State and Auburn in its opening two games of the season, the Minutemen have been shut out in the first quarter during their last four games, including Saturday’s loss to Arkansas State.

Conversely, the defense hasn’t been able to get stops early. Miami (Ohio) raced out to a 21-0 lead after 15 minutes, Eastern Michigan took a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter, New Mexico led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and on Saturday, the Red Wolves held a 17-0 lead just 10:17 into the game.

It’s no secret it’s easier to play with a lead than from behind. UMass (1-5) has been chasing points throughout its five-game losing skid, something that must change if it hopes to salvage its season. 

“I guess you put the blame on me,” Minutemen coach Don Brown said on Monday of the slow starts. “That’s the only thing I can say because I’m certainly not putting it on the players. Bottom line is we have to get off on the right foot. We haven’t gotten off on the right foot, then we do get off on the right foot and we’re rocking and rolling from there. I just think with the more confidence we have, obviously on the offensive side we had to inject a couple new players. That required us to change a little bit to emphasize the strength of the players who were playing. That becomes a bit of a challenge. 

“Bottom line is we have to set the plan so the guys can come out and play fast,” Brown added. “Then, ride that rhythm from there.” 

Despite digging itself in holes, UMass has found a way to climb out of it to make games competitive. 

Against the RedHawks the Minutemen trailed 28-7 at the half but clawed their way back into it, cutting the lead to 31-28 in the fourth quarter before ultimately falling, 41-28. 

UMass then fell behind 10-3 at the half to Eastern Michigan but ended up taking the lead with under two minutes to go before giving up a late touchdown. And against the Lobos, the Minutemen scored twice in the second quarter cut the deficit to 28-14 at the half. UMass then shut New Mexico out in the second half while scoring a pair of touchdowns itself to force overtime.

A late resurgence wasn’t in the cards against Arkansas State on Saturday. The Red Wolves took a 31-10 lead at the half but went on to score three second-half touchdowns to win the game, 52-28. 

“Arkansas State [scores] 17 in the first quarter, 14 in the second quarter,” Brown said. “The negative? We had no response. We’ve been able to fight our way back and get into games and for the first time we weren’t able to do that. If you ask me, that jumps out. The want-to and the try-hard, all that is good. But you have to get over the hump. That’s the big challenge for us as a staff this week.” 

Not falling behind early will be paramount to success this week, when Toledo heads to McGuirk Stadium for a showdown on Saturday, with kickoff scheduled for noon (ESPNU). 

The Rockets have an offense that can put up points in a hurry, sitting at 40.8 points-per-game through its opening five games (4-1 record). The game will also be the third in a row at McGuirk and the fourth in five weeks, with UMass yet to win a game on its home field this year.

The last time the Minutemen sent their home fans happy against an FBS opponent was Oct. 9, 2021 against UConn. 

“Gotta have it,” Brown said. “Obviously we’re more healthy on the offensive side and that’s a good thing. We just have to get off the right foot and play fast. I know I sound like a broken record but that’s really been our push. We just met on it as a staff, about the approaches we can take. We’re working hard to be ready to go when the gun goes off.”


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